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Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service T-3153

Dietary Fat
and Cholesterol
Janice R. Hermann, PhD, RD/LD
Nutrition Specialist Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact Sheets
are also available on our website at:
The basic units of fats are fatty acids and glycerol. There
are over forty different types of fatty acids. Fatty acids can be
divided into three groups: Foods contain combinations of the three types of fatty
• Saturated fatty acids acids. Completely saturated fats and completely polyunsatu-
• Monounsaturated fatty acids rated fats are very rare in nature. Whether a fat is solid or
• Polyunsaturated fatty acids liquid depends of the relative amounts of the different types
of fatty acids and the temperature. Unsaturated fats tend to
Fatty acids are long chains of carbons with hydrogens be liquid at room temperature and contain more unsaturated
attached. Fatty acids can be saturated or unsaturated. A fatty acids. Most saturated fats tend to be solid at room tem-
saturated fatty acid has all the carbons in the chain filled with perature and contain more saturated fatty acids. Exceptions
hydrogens. An unsaturated fatty acid is missing hydrogens, are tropical oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, coco butter,
and as a result the carbons bond to each other twice, forming and coconut oil. Even though these fats are liquid at room
what is called a double bond. If there is one place in the fatty temperature, they are very saturated.
acid missing hydrogens (or one double bond), the fatty acid is In food processing, polyunsaturated fats may be modified
monounsaturated. If there are two or more places in the fatty because unsaturated fats tend to go rancid. When oils have
acid missing hydrogens (two or more double bonds), the fatty been hydrogenated, they become more solid. Margarine is
acid is polyunsaturated. an example of liquid polyunsaturated oil that is hydrogenated
The body can make all but two fatty acids. The body can to become more solid. In the process of hydrogenation, hy-
make saturated fatty acids, and the body can change some drogens are added to the unsaturated carbons in a double
saturated fatty acids into monounsaturated fatty acids if the bond making the fatty acid more saturated. In addition, after
body needs them. However, our body is not able to make hydrogenation some fatty acids that remain unsaturated
two polyunsaturated fatty acids, linoleic acid (omega-6) and change shape from a cis to a trans configuration.
linolenic acid (omega-3). These two polyunsaturated fatty The main fatty acids in the fat determine whether the
acids are therefore essential and must be provided from the fat is referred to as saturated or unsaturated. The following
diet. From these two polyunsaturated fatty acids the body can table shows the fatty acid composition of some common fats,
make other polyunsaturated fatty acids in the body. oils, and foods. Lard, for example, contains over one-third
Fats are made up of two substances, fatty acids and saturated fatty acids. Even though the other fatty acids are
glycerol. Glycerol is a water-soluble compound that can bind monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, it is referred to as a
up to three fatty acids. When one fatty acid is attached to a saturated fat. Corn oil contains large amounts of both saturated
glycerol the compound is called a monoglyceride. When two and monounsaturated fatty acids. However, since about half
fatty acids are attached to a glycerol the compound is called of the fatty acids in corn oil are polyunsaturated, it is referred
a diglyceride. And when three fatty acids are attached to a to as a polyunsaturated fat.
glycerol, the compound is called a triglyceride. Most fats in Dietary fats are necessary for a healthy body. Fats have
food and in our bodies are in the form of triglycerides. many functions in our bodies. Fats along with protein are a basic

Percentage of different fatty acids in some common fats.

Common Fats/Oils Saturated Fatty Monounsaturated Fatty Polyunsaturated Fatty
Acids (%) Acids (%) Acids (%)

Corn 13 25 55
Olive 17 71 10
Palm 52 38 10
Rapeseed (Canola oil) 7 53 22
Soybean 15 23 51
Butter 65 26 1-3
Lard 42 46 6-8
Tallow 53 42 2

Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources • Oklahoma State University

if we eat more dietary cholesterol. Diets high in saturated fats and weight. in many cells. Our bodies use this energy or store it as Total cholesterol concentrations below 200 mg/dl are fat for later use.part of cell membranes. poultry. The Nutrition Facts Panel Triglyceride Concentrations also lists the percent Daily Value one serving provides for fat and cholesterol based on a 2. not a problem. By increasing the risk of obesity. If we eat less dietary cholesterol. LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol is a better indicator of Fats are a concentrated source of energy. The body needs cholesterol every day. The top end of cholesterol. Higher HDL fat layer below the skin insulates the body from heat loss. high fat diets may indirectly increase risk of diabetes Recommended Dietary Fat. Plants do not move around so the weight of stored energy is Triglyceride concentrations below 150 mg/dl are desirable. blood clotting. Reference Intakes (DRI) recommends a diet low in saturated Cholesterol is one of the best-known sterols. equal to or above 60 mg/dl are desirable. However. and concentrations weight of fat compared to carbohydrate is needed to provide over 240 mg/dl are high. Measuring Fats also are important sources of the fat-soluble vitamins. the body and monounsaturated fatty acids. HDL foods. are converted into fats and stored for mg/dl are considered high. Saturated Fat. Total blood cholesterol measurements include cholesterol You can use the Nutrition Facts Panel to compare the fat and in both the LDL and HDL lipoproteins. adrenal hormones. and cholesterol intakes are associated with increased risk for many diseases. blood lipids. provides 9 calories. LDL and cholesterol content of foods. proteins. saturated fat. and LDL-cholesterol concentrations over 160 mg/dl are high. Cholesterol is also needed to form cell membranes Guidelines recommendations for fat intake are: and the myelin sheath around nerve fiber. out of fragments keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible. with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturaed In a healthy body. cholesterol decreases your risk of heart disease. and high blood pressure. Triglyceride concentrations over 200 what our body needs. HDL cholesterol levels Although fat is important in the diet. a risk factor for cancer and obesity. Total cholesterol concentrations between 200 and carbohydrate because fats are calorie dense. further increasing stored carbohydrate tions between 130 and 159 mg/dl are considered borderline. Cholesterol is made • Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories. Saturated fats and trans fats increase blood and milk or dairy products. this range is slightly higher than previous recommendations. and not smoking promote higher HDL-cholesterol trans fats are a risk for heart disease. Almost half the 239 mg/dl are considered borderline. such as fish. cholesterol levels in responsive people. Fats are part of many body compounds lipoproteins are released from the liver and circulate in the that help regulate blood pressure. body makes more cholesterol. Exercising. and makes less cholesterol. blood to pick up excess cholesterol from the body and carry and immune response to injury and infection. but only animal foods contain 35 percent of the daily calories intake from fat. and intake is reasonable and saturated fat intake is low. and choose products low in such fats and Cholesterol is carried in the blood in lipoproteins to body oils. fatty acids. and Cholesterol cholesterol from the body and carry it back to the liver to be on the Food Label removed from the body. from fats. nuts. LDL-cholesterol concentra- with carbohydrates. The cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. many adults eat below 40 mg/dl are considered low. tissues where it is used. but liver cells make the majority of cholesterol.000-calorie reference diet. LDL-cholesterol concentrations the same amount of calories. Body fat cushions it back to the liver to be removed from the body. The Nutrition Facts Panel on food labels lists the num- ber of grams of total fat and saturated fat and milligrams of Recommended Blood Cholesterol and cholesterol in one serving of food. The liver makes • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated about 800 to 1500 mg of cholesterol each day. It is efficient to store energy as fat instead of desirable. beyond considered borderline. High total fat diets are concentrations.The Dietary vitamin D. In fact. In addition. Excess fat. cholesterol levels. Plants can easily store energy as the bulkier Triglyceride concentrations between 150 and 199 mg/dl are carbohydrate. and Cholesterol Intakes Sterols High dietary fat. LDL lipoproteins carry cholesterol from the liver through the body. Cholesterol serves This revision recognizes that diets with up to 35 percent of as the starting material for many important body compounds calories from fat can be compatible with good health if calorie including bile acids. and that the cholesterol provided in the diet. water is also stored below 100 mg/dl are desirable. T-3153-2 . The following terms are used HDL lipoproteins have different functions in the body. or fat-free. HDL-cholesterol concentrations later use. the vegetable oils. trans fat. much more fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol. and carbohydrates. Both plant and fat. carbohydrate. HDL lipoproteins are released from the liver and circulate in the blood to pick up excess Fat. Higher LDL internal organs and protects them from being damaged. The Dietary Sterols are compounds that have a multiple-ring structure. sex hormones. make choices that are lean. saturated fats low-fat. and protein. losing excess more fat than they should. Storing fat means the body has less weight to carry. weight. dry beans. LDL on food labels to describe the fat and cholesterol content of lipoproteins carry cholesterol from the liver into the body. and trans fats can raise blood cholesterol more than dietary • Limit intake of fats and oils high in saturated and/or trans cholesterol. One gram of fat heart disease risk than just total cholesterol alone. Dietary fats can affect blood • When selecting and preparing meat. and cholesterol and one which provides 20 to animal foods contain sterols. Saturated Fat.

Try gradually lowering the fat to keep the fat down. are available. • Cheeses naturally lower in fat include part-skim mozzarella • Pretzels. fat-free snack crackers are available. or sauces. or steaming instead of deep fat frying but just not too much. • Ground turkey without the skin has less fat than ground • Eat high fat foods less often.” • Many types of fish are low in fat. • Plain frozen vegetables contain less fat than those frozen ing compared to a similar food. • Fat free milk (skim or non-fat) and low-fat (1%) milk have • Pasta is low in fat. Herbs and spices can serving and less than 1/2 gram trans fat per serving. • Use lower fat cooking methods • Limit sauces and gravies that are high in fat.Total Cholesterol. many low-fat and reduced-fat snacks available. roasting. deli beef. • Add variety by including naturally low-fat breads such as • Two egg whites or a quarter-cup of egg substitute can bagels. However. Vegetable and Fruit Groups: • Saturated fat free: less than 1/2 gram of saturated fat and • Almost all vegetables and fruits are low in fat. quick frankfurters. air-popped popcorn. and packaged bakery desserts have added fat. and ricotta cheese. be used for each whole egg in a recipe. cream. • Season vegetables without margarine. provide a tasty alternative. Use low-fat sauces and low-fat cheese the least amount of fat. However. cookie choices are available • There are many low-fat frozen dairy desserts. the solidified fat before serving. and graham crackers are • Lower the fat in recipes by substituting plain fat-free yogurt traditional low-fat cookies. turkey with the skin. but fish with white meat such as flounder. • Ham. Choose • It is important to remember that reduced-fat or fat-free low-fat ice creams. croissants. You do need some fat in the diet. ice milks. content by switching to reduced fat milk (2%). Reduced-fat or available. rye crackers. Some general guidelines for fat intake or pan-frying. animal crackers. English muffins. Check the Nutrition Facts Panel to • Substitute applesauce or other fruit purees for oil to lower compare the fat content. butter. mixes are high in fat. with butter. meat. • Eat smaller portions of high fat foods. poultry. • Ginger snaps. and rice cakes are low fat. Exceptions 1/2 gram trans fat per serving. and does not mean calorie-free. • Reduced or less fat: at least 25 percent less fat per serv. Total Cholesterol LDL Cholesterol Triglycerides Desirable Less than 200 Less than 100 Less than 150 Borderline 200 . the fat when baking at home. T-3153-3 . are avocados and coconut. and soups and remove • Choose lower fat alternatives more often. Very low-fat luncheon meats and hot dogs breads. and tortillas. • Granola type cereals are higher in fat than many other Dairy Group ready-to-eat cereals. in the diet are: • Refrigerate meat drippings. and bread sticks. • Many commercial bakery goods such as muffins and • Many frozen dinners. pita bread. Lowering dietary fat intake does not mean you have to • Use low fat preparation methods such as broiling. Melba toast. poaching. grilling. crisp or fat-free cheeses. • Trim visible fat from meat and remove the skin from Guidelines for Lowering Fat Intake poultry. stews. and biscuits have added fat. Many reduced-fat and fat-free for sour cream or mayonnaise. cottage cheese. However. • Low fat: 3 grams or less fat per serving. and then • Snack foods are typically high in fat. • Reduced or less saturated fat: at least 25 percent less saturated fat and trans fat per serving compared to a Protein Foods Group: similar food. sole. and turkey breast contain less fat than • Most breads are low in fat. convenience foods. low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurts. LDL-Cholesterol and Triglyceride Concentrations (mg/dl). there are low fat (1%) and finally to fat free milk (skim or non-fat). some breads and regular processed luncheon meats and hot dogs or bread products such as cheese bread. omit all fat from your diet.239 130 – 159 150-199 High Greater than 240 Greater than 160 Greater than 200 • Fat free: less than 1/2 gram of fat per serving. there are many reduced-fat • Low-fat crackers include saltines. • Choose lean cuts of meat. or high • Low saturated-fat: one gram or less saturated fat per fat sauces to keep the fat down. and cream cheeses breads. and orange roughy tend to have Healthy Choices to Lower Fat less fat than fish with darker meat such as salmon or through the USDA Daily Food Plan mackerel. • Choose low-fat and fat-free yogurts. • Tuna packed in water has less fat than tuna packed in Grain Group: oil. Look for the words “ground turkey • Balance foods higher in fat with foods lower in fat. and fish.

1914. Understanding Nutrition. Dietary Guidelines • Regular stick margarine contains less saturated fat than for Americans 2010. color. shortening. and other federal laws and regulations. acts of May 8 and June 30. CA. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have gov. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work. Executive Order 11246 as amended. in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. and educational services. United States Department of Agriculture. • Choosing a polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oil does not mean its okay to use unlimited amounts.usda. te Director of Cooperative Extension Service. and Rolfes. ChooseMyPlate.Thomson/Wadsworth Publishing Co. Department of Agriculture. sunflower. saturated fats. national origin.choosemyplate. Oklahoma State University. Belmont.. religion.Fats. butter. This includes but is not limited to the same number of calories as saturated fats.cnpp. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. gov/DietaryGuidelines. oils are high in polyunsaturated fats.S. but the same amount of total fat and calories. Oklahoma. Oklahoma State University. have less total fat and calories. oils. Accessed at: www. employment. Dean. does not discriminate on the basis of race. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. coconut oil. and Sweets • Use non-stick pan and vegetable sprays instead of mar- • Lard. disability. Revised 0814 GH Revised. practices. sautéing. or status as a veteran in any of its policies. gender.R. 13th ed. Stillwater. or procedures. financial aid. E.N. age. Canola oil and olive There are several reduced-fat and fat-free salad dress- oil are high in monounsaturated fats. corn. and soybean • Regular salad dressings and mayonnaise are high in fat.htm • Tub and soft-spread margarine are lower in saturated fat Whitney. and palm oil are high in garine or oil for browning. T-3153-4 . and Director of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and has been prepared and distributed at a cost of 20 cents per copy. or frying foods. S. For good References health it is important to use less of all types of fats and United States Department of Agriculture. in cooperation with the U. Safflower. This publication is printed and issued by Oklahoma State University as authorized by the Vice President. ings and mayonnaise available. Oils. Accessed at: http://www. Reduced-fat and fat-free margarine 2013. than stick margarine.